Recruiting teachers for grad students

Nov 11 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

We're coming to the season where potential grad students are contacting people they might like to work with and a trend is starting to develop for me. Between last year and this year, almost all of the inquiries about the lab have been from either students about to graduate from their undergrad or people who are currently (or heave recently been) teachers in high school or grad school. It has been particularly noticeable this year, but once I noticed the trend I realized that all of my current students fall under one of these categories as well. So what gives?

My guess is that the people who go into teaching and then on to grad school decide that even if they enjoy teaching at their pre-grad-career level, they eventually want to teach at the college level. On the other hand, I also know of cases where teachers find out they hate teaching and go to grad school in order to take their careers in a different direction. I'm sure there's no cookie-cutter reason, but I've been surprised by the prevalence of a teaching career on many applicant CVs.

However, my question for readers is whether they would prefer someone with teaching experience over an applicant right out of school? Obviously, this is highly candidate specific, but given roughly equal CVs and no perceptible difference in attitude, is there a preference for one over the other? I'll keep my opinions to myself for the moment.

11 responses so far

  • Professor in Training says:

    I can only speak for myself as I was a teacher and then a lab flunky before I went to grad school. Being out in the "real world" gives you a perspective that freshly minted graduates don't have. These individuals may be a tad rusty with their knowledge but they will have matured a bit and developed a different work ethic that, in my humble and near-sighted opinion, makes them better grad students.

  • Alyssa says:

    I agree with PiT - the teachers have that "real-world" experience that someone fresh out of undergrad doesn't. Plus, they are making the conscious decision to go back to school after being in the workforce; whereas some undergrads just choose to go to grad school simply because it's the "easiest" or "most obvious" thing for them to do (the whole pressing-the-snooze-alarm-on-life thing).

  • PUI prof says:

    In my experience, if one spends the entire day trying to make concepts general and understandable and how they fit into the big picture atrophies the cognitive skills for finding details, exceptions to the rule, and finding very subtle changes in looking at things that could make the difference between interpreting data in one direction of the other.They get rusty, but aren't gone. You would just need to bring them back up to speed for the detail work.

  • Anonymous says:

    With few exceptions, I would not take on a grad student fresh out of undergrad. For me, the ones coming back after a brief hiatus living amongst the "real" people really want to be in school and a person who was a teacher would have that type of experience. In graduate school, it was easy to pick out those students who came directly into graduate school from those who had had jobs because the proposed solutions of the former were not realistic at all. Then again, I took 5 years off.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    I agree that "real world" experience can be helpful for grad students, but I certainly wouldn't go so far as to say that students right out of UG don't make good grad students. If someone knows the direction they want to go in based on their UG experience, who's to tell them to get outside experience first? When I started to think about how I wanted my lab to be set up, I decided that ideally I would like to mix in people with different levels of real world experience. As a consequence, there is a large range of ages among my students and an equally diverse set of previous experiences. So far it's worked out really well, but I'm sure there will be plenty of times where I don't have qualified candidates who fit my ideal situation. I also imagine that this happens naturally as the lab grows, so it doesn't have to be intentional.

  • Anonymous says:

    Not saying that students straight out of UG wouldn't be good. In fact, my two grad students came straight out of UG and they are excellent. It just worked out that way.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    So what about two CVs of roughly equal credentials except one from a tech and one from a teacher? Who gets the nod to join the lab?

  • Professor in Training says:

    In that case the only solution is that the winner takes all in a cage fighting matchup.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    Science does need more cage fighting.

  • Professor in Training says:

    Dude, I'd have three R01s and tenure if cage fighting was part of science.

  • Anonymous says:

    Tech versus teacher, that's tough. Have you spoken with either of these future MMA fighters? A phone interview might decide it. If you're collectively low on technical expertise in the lab then that person might be the better option but the teacher might round things out if you've already got some good hands.

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